Finding out your dog has epilepsy will be a shock. Watching your dog suffering from seizures is traumatic and you’re often left feeling helpless. There will also be the consideration of whether it’s cruel to let your dog suffer. Yet, the thought of euthanizing your epileptic dog is just as traumatic.
I’ve spoken to 3 different dog owners who have experienced this, plus pulled on memories I have from being a kid to present what I believe is a balanced argument. I am not a vet, but this might help you in deciding when to euthanize a dog with epilepsy – if at all.
When to put down a dog with epilepsy? Deciding when to euthanize your epileptic dog has to be a personal decision taken after advice from a vet. There is no cure for canine epilepsy. A dog’s lifespan can be shortened to less than 8 years. A dog suffering from epilepsy can be treated with medications with unpleasant side effects.
Euthanizing an epileptic dog is a personal choice and your vet is best placed to advise you.
Talking to your vet and getting their advice is often the first step any dog owner should take. Understanding a disease and knowing the options for treatment goes a long way to making a decision about whether to put your dog down or not.
I’ve put together this guide to give you more clarity about canine epilepsy, how it can be managed through medications and what you can expect when living with an epileptic dog.
I hope it gives you some direction when you find yourself facing the dreaded question of how to know when to put a dog with epilepsy down.
What canine epilepsy means for your dog
The first sign your dog is possibly suffering from epilepsy is when they start having seizures. Your vet will run some tests to confirm a diagnosis. In simple layman terms, seizures are caused by electrical currents going haywire in your dog’s brain.
Here’s a definition from the Canine Health Foundation.
“Epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder seen in dogs and has been estimated to affect approximately 0.75% of the canine population3. The term epilepsy refers to a heterogeneous disease that is characterized by the presence of recurrent, unprovoked seizures resulting from an abnormality of the brain. The condition can be inherited (genetic or idiopathic epilepsy), caused by structural problems in the brain (structural epilepsy), or stem from an unknown cause (epilepsy of unknown cause).” (view source)
If your dog has a series of seizures with no medical cause for them, your vet will likely diagnose your dog with epilepsy. Your dog could be having cluster seizures which are a number of convulsions in a 24-hour period. Some seizures can last up to 30 minutes at a time.
While this neurological disorder is one of the most common, chronic diseases found in dogs, its cause is not often easily known. Your vet may tell you your dog has idiopathic epilepsy which is a genetic condition.
Your dog’s seizures may also be diagnosed as secondary epilepsy which is the malfunctioning of the brain or symptomatic epilepsy which is brain malfunctioning with unknown cause.
Are there other causes for seizures in dogs?
While epilepsy is often the diagnosis for repeated episodes of seizures in dogs, there can be other causes of seizures in dogs. This is why you need to have a diagnosis confirmed by your vet before you even consider the euthanasia question.
Your vet will ask you questions about the history of your dog and how often the seizures are taking place.
Other medical conditions could be causing your dog to have seizures, and these include:
Getting the right diagnosis for your dog’s seizures is essential so you can give him the right treatment. Knowing why your dog is having repeated series of seizures will also give you an understanding of what is happening to your dog and when to put down.
Are some dog breeds more prone to epilepsy than others?
Studies have shown that some dog breeds are more likely to suffer from canine epilepsy than others. The following dog breeds are known to have inherited epilepsy:
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retriever
- English Springer Spaniel
- Miniature Dachshund
Border collies, Cocker spaniels, St. Bernard and Siberian huskies are also known to be predisposed to epilepsy.
What treatment will my epileptic dog need?
Your vet will prescribe a treatment using anticonvulsant medications. These are known as phenobarbital and potassium bromide. It’s vital to know that once you decide to use anticonvulsant medication, you have to continue the treatment for the rest of your epileptic dog’s lifespan.
If anticonvulsant medication is halted at any time, you run the risk of increasing your dog’s seizures, resulting often in more severe episodes. Always follow your vet’s instructions when using these types of medications.
Treatment for epilepsy is expensive.
The initial diagnosis process may include running a number of neurological tests and you can expect the vet’s bill to be in the region of $1,000.
Once epilepsy is confirmed, ongoing drug treatment, regular checkups with the vet and other unexpected costs all add up.
For many dog owners, the expense of managing an epileptic dog can get too much and they may need to consider euthanizing their epileptic dog.
What can I do when my dog is having a seizure?
I will never forget the day I watched my grandparents’ dog was having a seizure. It was horrible to see her withering on the ground, uncontrollably and not being able to do anything to ease her condition.
My grandparents had been through these episodes before and knew the best thing to do was to leave their dog alone. Normally, seizures don’t last for a long time and your dog is not in pain while it’s happening.
Make sure your dog is safe and in there’s no risk of him hurting himself from knocking objects or falling off from high spots.
Expect him to feel confused and disorientated. Whatever you do, don’t try to hold his tongue! He’s not going to swallow it.
When your dog starts to come out of his seizure, observe him. He should start recovering within 15 to 30 minutes and you can take him outside for some fresh air. While it’s traumatic to watch your dog suffering during a seizure, your role is to stay calm and be with your dog.
If you dog has repeated seizures during a 24-hour period with no signs of recovery, get him to the vet immediately. This is known as status epilepticus and can be dangerous to your dog’s health.
Dogs that get this sick despite medication can mean the owners having to decide when to put down a dog with epilepsy
Do I need to put down my dog with epilepsy?
Living with an epileptic dog can be an emotional experience for you and your family. Knowing that there’s no cure in sight and that your dog’s lifespan will be shortened is difficult to deal with.
Managing the costs and ensuring your dog is getting the correct treatment is another consideration.
If you find yourself asking if you need to euthanize your epileptic dog, have an in-depth discussion with your vet. He or she will be able to take you through the pros and cons of living with a dog suffering from epilepsy.
How long can dogs with epilepsy live?
Dogs with epilepsy might live to just 8 years of age. The Vetinary Health Center at the University of Missouri say:
“Approximately 40 to 60 percent of dogs with epilepsy have one or more episodes of cluster seizures or status epilepsy, and a mean lifespan of only 8 years, compared to 11 years for those with epilepsy without episodes status epilepsy.” (view source)
Approximately 40-60 percent of dogs with epilepsy have one or more episodes of cluster seizures or status epilepsy, and a mean lifespan of only 8 years, compared to 11 years for those with epilepsy without episodes status epilepsy.
Most dogs with canine epilepsy are able to live a comfortable life with the correct medications. While the side effects of these drugs can be unpleasant, they can be managed.
This includes giving your dog the right diet and giving him plenty of exercise.
If you feel you can help your dog by giving him the correct treatment, taking him for ongoing checkups with your vet and your dog shows no adverse signs of living with epilepsy, then you don’t have to put him down.
I remember visiting my grandparents one holiday and their Labrador Retriever was having funny turns. It wasn’t easy watching her suffer and as a kid, I didn’t really understand what was happening.
I do know my grandparents felt sad and they finally had to make the decision to put their special dog down.
The moment will stay with me forever, so I do hope you make the best decision on putting down your dog with epilepsy based on their quality of life.
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